December 2007


I found a link to a great article by Asifa Quraishi on Ali Eteraz’s blog last evening on zina and rape in Islamic law. The article is a critique of the rape laws in Pakistan. Quraishi makes a great point (and confirms a view I had) that the rigorous requirements put forth in the Qur’an to punish zina in effect makes zina something between God and the parties involved. It basically takes zina out of the public realm and into the private. Thus, it is as if Allah is saying that this is a private, spiritual matter.

Why so many evidentiary restrictions on a criminal offense prescribed by God? Islamic scholars posit that it is precisely to prevent carrying out punishment for this offense. By limiting conviction to only those cases where four individuals actually saw sexual penetration take place, the crime will realistically only be punishable if the two parties are committing the act in public, in the nude. The crime is therefore really one of public indecency rather than private sexual conduct.21 That is, even if four witnesses saw a couple having sex, but under a coverlet, for example, this testimony would not only fail to support a zina charge, but these witnesses would also be liable for slander.22 Thus, while the Qur’an condemns extramarital sex as an evil, it authorizes the Muslim legal system to prosecute someone for committing this crime only when it is performed so openly that four people see them without invading their privacy. As Cherif Bassiouni puts it, “[t]he requirement of proof and its exigencies lead to the conclusion that the policy of the harsh penalty is to deter public aspects of this form of sexual practice” (Bassiouni 1982, 6).23

She also looks at how women in patriarchal societies have long been seen as the gatekeepers of honors and morality and how current zina laws in Pakistan (and by extension honor killing in other countries as well as the recent Qatif ruling) are ways of keeping women in this position of honor maintainers. Quraishi argues, I think quite convincingly, that the Qur’an speaks out against this exploitation of women.

The Qur’an, however, has harsh words for the exploitation of women’s dignity in this way. As if anticipating the misogynistic tendency of society, the Qur’an first establishes that there is to be no speculation about a woman’s sexual conduct. No one may cast any doubt upon the character of a woman except by formal charges, with very specific, secure evidence (i.e. four eyewitnesses to actual intercourse) that the woman is disrupting public decency with her behavior.33 If such direct proof does not materialize, then anyone engaging in such a charge is subject to physical punishment for slander. (For even if the information is true, any witness who is not accompanied by another three will be punished for slander (Qur’an 24:11-17). As for the public at large, they must leave her alone, regardless of the outcome. Where the public refuses to perpetuate rumors, responding instead that: “it is not for us to speak of” (Qur’an 24: 16-17) the patriarchal tendency to invest the honor of society in women’s sexuality loses force. In the face of any hint of a woman’s sexual impropriety, the Qur’anic response is: walk away. Leave her alone. Leave her dignity intact. The honor of a woman is not a tool, it is her fundamental right.

I encourage you all to read the rest of the article.

My husband e-mailed me this really weird and uncritical position on the Qatif case . It’s actually a refutation of a previous and much harsher view about the case. So in the refutation, Ibn Al-Hashimi says that his previous position concerning the Qatif case was wrong and harsh. However, he then goes on to say

However, I now disagree with this ruling, because I think that the fact that the girl was raped serves as a great deterrence, and as such, there is no need to add any more punishment on top of that. For example, if a child keeps sticking his fingers in the socket, then the parents will punish him severely in order to prevent him from placing himself in harm’s way. However, if the child one day sticks his fingers in the socket and then gets electrocuted such that he is rushed to the hospital with severe burns, then I think at that point in time this experience itself will serve as a deterrence to the child such that he will never do it again. It will also serve as a deterrence to his siblings, who will see the result of what he did. Any punishment on top of this would, in my opinion, be unnecessary and redundant. Likewise, I believe that the Qatif girl was alone in a car with another man, and because of this, she placed herself in harm’s way and the result of that was that she was raped. This fact alone would serve as a deterrence to other women, who would then fear placing themselves in a similar situation. What I mean to say is that the lashing on top of that is not, in my opinion, necessary.

Ok, so he thinks that the lashings were harsh not because the whole punishment actually goes against Shari’ah but because her rape was punishment enough? In what psycho world is rape a punishment for being alone with a man? Oh, wait, in misogynist land. I forgot. Sorry. There are so many things wrong with his revised position. For one, being alone with a man in a car in a parking lot is not a crime! Did we suddenly forget the reason why verses 4-5 of Suratun Nur were revealed. ‘A’isha (ra) was alone with a man because she was left behind in the desert and the Prophet (saws) sent one of his men to get her. She was slandered with accusations of adultery. So basically, seeing a woman alone with a man is not ground to accuse of her anything.

And as for those who accuse chaste women [of adultery], and then are unable to produce four witnesses [in support of their accusation], flog them with eighty stripes and ever after refuse to accept from them any testimony – since it is they, they that are truly depraved!

The whole problem with Ibn Al-Hashmi’s opinion is that he assumes that the woman committed a crime that deserved to be punished. She didn’t commit a crime. She didn’t commit a crime according to the Qur’an, so why is punishment even brought up in the same breath with this woman’s name? That’s why I also take issue with the woman being pardoned. Again, this action assumes that she did a crime when she didn’t!

Also, if we were to take the bizaare opinion that her rape was a punishment, what was it a punishment for? She wasn’t raped by the man she was in the car with. She was raped by a group of complete strangers. I mean if we really follow Al-Hashmi’s view to it’s logical conclusion, then simply going out in public puts women in harm’s way since she was raped by strangers. The rape simply reinforced the idea that it’s dangerous for a woman to go out in public at all. Of course, he would see this position as irrational and thus, his position is quite irrational as well. However, at least he did soften his position and come to the conclusion that the lashes were wrong. *sigh* It’s something.

Contraception is an extremely important issue for Muslim women. Women’s access to contraception affects women’s quality of life and their ability to control their bodies. Contraception is halal in Islam. Prophet Muhammad (saws) allowed for its use. During his time, the form of contraception used was ‘azl or coitus interruptus:

According to Jabir, “We used to practise ‘azl in the Prophet’s (pbuh) lifetime while the Qur’an was being revealed.” There is another version of the same hadith, “We used to practise coitus interruptus during the Prophet’s (pbuh) lifetime. News of this reached him and he did not forbid us.”

Despite this hadeeth and others which attest that the Prophet clearly had no issue with it-in fact he is reported to have said “You do not have to hesitate, for God has predestined what is to be created until the judgement day” in regards to ‘azl-there seems to be more reluctance to endorse birth control by some Muslims. As evidenced in this fatwa, this fatwa, this article, and this fatwa, there seems to be a trend among Muslim scholars to allow birth control with conditions. There was even this bizarre fatwa issued by an Indian Mufti prohibiting contraception. The view espoused in these fatwas is that birth control is ok as long as there are some strings attached. Birth control is ok with many of the scholars as long as it doesn’t interfere with populating the ummah and making the ummah as big as possible. Saving the mother’s life is also seen as a valid reason for birth control. Using birth control to delay children simply because one is not ready to have children is seen as denying the view that children are a gift. Sheikh Ahmed Kutty said:

Islam encourages us to marry and procreate. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Marry and procreate.” Procreation is definitely one of the stated purposes of marriage in Islam. Children are Allah’s gifts, which we must welcome and cherish as a divine gift.

Islam is opposed to ways of life which consider children as a burden; the unfortunate outcome of such hedonistic philosophies is to prefer pets such as dogs and cats over children. Muslims must never be carried away by such materialistic philosophies; they can immunize themselves against such negative influences by strictly conforming to the Qur’anic teachings on marriage and procreation.

Viewed from this perspective, Islam does not look favorably at family planning if it is carried out for the simple reason of enjoyment and unwillingness to take on the responsibility of parenting.

However, this view of contraception was not always the norm for Muslim scholars. In Sex and Society in Medieval Islam and Women and Gender in Islam, classical Muslim scholars held very liberal views on contraception and abortion as well. This because in medieval Muslim societies, men had a vested interest in preventing pregnancy. If a concubine had children, she couldn’t be sold, she became free after the man’s death and her children became heirs to the father in the same way that his wives children would be. Even preventing wives from having children presented an economic advantage to men:

Given this system, it was evidently economically to men’s advantage that wives not bear many children and that concubines in particular not bear any children, for if they did, they ceased to be a profitable investment. And, in a system that permitted polygamy and unrestricted divorce and concubinage, a wife who did not give birth would present no hardship for the man, because he had the options of divorcing her, taking another wife without divorving her, or taking a concubine. (Ahmed, 1990)

Ahmed goes on further to explain that during this period, sexual services were considered a wife’s duty but not necessarily procreation and that it was actually to a woman’s advantage to have children. My point in bringing up historical views on birth control is to show that Muslims’ views on contraception are shaped just as much by our social context as much as it is by the Qur’an and Sunnah. We interpret the Qur’an and Sunnah in light of our circumstances. The current emphasis on using birth control only to space children or for health reasons fall in line with the the current view that children are a blessing and more importantly a blessing for the ummah.I put emphasis on ummah because the current view on contraception and the former view on contraception both seemed to be based, not on women’s autonomy, but on what is perceived as best for the community. Many Muslims see the high birth rates in Muslim countries as one of the things that distinguishes Muslims. It is something that distinguishes us from the “hedonistic West”. There is also the tradition from the Prophet which states that his ummah will be the largest ummah on the day of judgment. Thus, there is this “need” among some Muslims to have many children in order to fulfill this prophecy. However, this doesn’t take into account factors such as born Muslim apostatizing from Islam or not practicing Islam.

We need to recognize that there are a variety of reasons for the use of contraception and that they are valid. Marriage in Islam has never been solely for procreation. Companionship and a legal outlet for sexual activity are two reasons for marriage. Thus, using contraception until a couple feels that they are ready to have children should not be an issue. Also, we need to be more considerate of women’s health and well being. Not only their physical health but their mental health as well. There are many sisters who have many children who are having a hard time coping in terms of their own spiritual and mental well being. There’s little time for these women to focus on bettering themselves personally and as Muslimahs because they have so many little ones to care for. Additionally, we need to give Muslim women more autonomy in choosing what they want their family to be like. We shouldn’t guilt trip women into having children that they may not want. If a woman wants to have two children, we should respect her decision.

While family planning may help women, it may also be in the best interest of the ummah as a whole. Controlling population growth leads to better standards of living. In Iran, the higher education rates and family planning efforts have alleviated pressure on their water supply and arable land supply. Iran is now seen as a model for other developing nations. As Muslims, we have to be more considerate of resources. Yes, Allah will take care of us. However, we cannot take the naive view that because Allah takes care of us that we have no responsibility in providing for our welfare. “Theologian Fazlur Rahman says that using the Qur’anic references to God’s power and promise to sustain all creation to argue “for an unlimited population out of proportion to the economic resources is infantile. The Qur’an certainly does not mean to say that God provides every living creature with sustenance whether that creature is capable of procuring sustenance for itself or not”” (taken from this site).

We need to be more critical in our views towards contraception. Muslim women need to have the choice to decide whether they want to engage in family planning. She should not be made to feel guilty or that she lacks faith in Allah.

Any Muslimah is familiar with Muslim women role models of the past. We have Fatimah and Khadijah (ra). I include ‘Aisha (ra) in this list (for Sunnis at least) but I think that the perception of ‘Aisha by Muslim scholars through the ages has been less clear than the former two. While ‘Aisha is praised for her knowledge of hadeeth and her devotion to the Prophet, she is not praised for other actions such as her leading role in the battle of the camel. Because of actions like this, ‘Aisha has, at times, been associated with fitnah (chaos, confusion) by the ‘ulama. I also think she has been somewhat associated with fitnah because she challenged norms of proper gender roles for women. Despite this, she is still considered a role model by many Muslim women and even Muslim scholars.

All of these women lived over 1400 years ago. I think that unfortunately, there has been little emphasis on modern role models for Muslim women of the present. Many books on written for Muslim women are abundant with information on the women I mentioned above. Books may even have information on Hafsa and Umm Salaama (ra). However, one is often left with the impression that Muslim women haven’t done much since the time of the sahabah. One gets the impression that women had little influence on Islamic societies, especially during the “golden age” of Islamic history and that they continue to have little influence in the present.

Muslims girls and Muslim women need to know that we have always made impacts in our societies, and that we continue to do so. They need to know that we have not just been wives and mothers who are supportive of leaders, but that we have been leaders ourselves. Umm Hani (d. 1466) was a distinguished scholar of Qur’an and hadeeth. Another woman, Khadijah bint ‘Ali (d. 1468) was a scholar of Qur’an and hadeeth as well as a calligrapher. She taught women as well as men. I learned about these women and others not from traditional books for Muslim women but from Women and Gender in Islam, the famous book written by Leila Ahmed. A more controversial figure is Rabi’a al-‘Adawiyya, a Sufi mystic who spoke heavily of her love of God and who also did not get married because of her devotion to God. One of my favorite quotes by her is “O my Lord,” she prayed, “if I worship Thee from fear of Hell, burn me in Hell, and if I worship Thee in hope of Paradise, exclude me thence, but if I worship Thee for Thine own sake, then withhold not from me Thine Eternal Beauty.”

There are role models for modern Muslim too. Shirin Ebadi was the first Muslim woman and also the first Iranian to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She won the award for fights for human rights, especially for women and children. Ingrid Mattson is the first woman to ever be President of ISNA (Islamic Society of North America).

Muslim women have always had role models to look up to. The problem though, is that many of these women do not get the attention they deserve. They don’t get the attention they deserve in books written by traditional (I use traditional for lack of a better term) scholars. Muslim women are left looking up to Khadijah, Fatimah, Mary, ‘Aisha and other figures centuries past. Many of us often left wondering if we still have a significant role in the deen outside of mother and wife. By highlighting Muslim women who have made their mark, Muslim women will know that yes, they still do have a significant role in the deen and they will fight for it.

As salaamu ‘alaikum all,

Welcome to Muslimnista! This is the first post of the blog. This blog was created to promote feminist ideas and thought from a Muslim perspective. You may wonder why there needs to be a blog dedicated to Muslim feminist thought. There are a number of reasons why I felt this was necessary. The first reason for creating this blog is to show that feminism and Islam are not antithetical to each other. Unfortunately, there is this view among both some Muslims and some non-Muslim feminists that Islam and feminism are not compatible. This is just not true. From the earliest stages of Islamic history, there have been women who have fought for the rights of women in the ummah (Islamic community). They believed that Allah (God) not only spoke to men in the ummah but that He was speaking too members of the ummah. Women such as ‘A’isha, Hafsa and Umm Salama (ra) all fought to have women be inclusive in the early Muslim community.

The other primary reason for starting this blog is because I couldn’t find a blog that was just dedicated to Muslim feminist thought. There are blogs done by Muslim feminists. I am one of those feminists with a blog. However, there didn’t seem to be many blogs just dedicated to this topic. So, I thought Muslimnista could help to fill in the void. Insha’Allah, this blog will help to start a movement both on the Internet and in real life.